InTransit Extra

Laying the foundation for greater productivity

With the right groundwork, digital twins, data analytics and AI can help transit agencies deliver a backlog of infrastructure improvements

By Jeff Siegel, GISP | Director, Digital Solutions | HNTB

Transit agencies are leveraging unprecedented Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funding to catch up on a backlog of projects. Not only are they working to get infrastructure in the ground sooner, but they also are considering smart technology solutions for managing the assets as they transition into operation. Digital approaches and data strategies are playing an ever-important role in their stewardship efforts. Platforms such as digital twins, predictive analytics, data science and the metaverse all have ways to aid in driving a more preventative maintenance strategy. Thus, increasing the longevity of assets and boosting staff productivity in order to bring a new level of insight to decision-making for public transit agencies.

A solid foundation

But before implementing such technologies, transit owners should focus on a solid foundation of sound data governance, enterprise data management and Agile project management. These practices are key elements of a successful innovation-driven enterprise, and the time to plan and implement them is now.

Govern. Data governance provides the right roles, tools and workflows for managing data securely throughout an organization. Proper governance can:

  • Ensure high-quality data to support business operations and analytics
  • Protect personal information
  • Manage data risk
  • Reduce operating costs related to a lack of trust in reports and data
  • Identify opportunities to use data to support agency goals
  • Share data effectively and appropriately with the public and partner agencies

Effective data governance is a tremendous culture change for most organizations – breaking down silos and raising awareness of overall agency goals and objectives. Without effectively engaging everyone involved, progress in data governance becomes more challenging.

One example of this is the San Diego Association of Governments’ ambitious data governance effort that focused on people first. Because the agency relies on external data sources from local partner transportation agencies and member municipalities, it staged a significant upfront effort, including training workshops to set the program in the right direction. The upfront effort informed staff and reinforced a common understanding of the importance of policies and practices to improve data accessibility, data quality and analytical capabilities throughout the agency.

Standardize and store. Enterprise data management uses cloud platforms and digital environments to standardize and securely store accurate, timely data, as seen in the Texas Department of Transportation’s ConnectSmart program. ConnectSmart helps Houston metro commuters explore mobility options and rely less on single-occupancy vehicles. By planning effectively and leveraging cloud services, TxDOT has dramatically improved its ability to communicate real-time traveler information to users.

Manage. Agile project management is an iterative approach that aims to release benefits throughout the management process rather than only at the end. Because Agile facilitates adaptability, rapid mobilization and transparency, it is especially effective in managing technology efforts. In fact, some public transit agencies are turning to it for their most challenging technology and infrastructure projects. The Massachusetts Port Authority used Agile for its comprehensive facility inspection program and was able to advance the program despite changing demands and shifting operational priorities.

Productivity-enhancing tools

Once the tenets of governance, standardization and storage and management are in place, agencies can more effectively implement the following innovative tools and technologies to better align their innovation efforts.

Digital twins. New York’s Long Island Rail Road used 3D asset models to create the initial framework of its $1 billion Jamaica Station Capacity Improvements project and then integrated the models throughout the project development process. The LIRR’s digital twin framework enabled the dynamic integration of geospatial data, parametric models, schedules, design programming and cost estimates into a highly accessible and dynamic web viewer. The approach and platform provide weekly automated updates, allowing the project team, owner and contractor partners to easily view and analyze complex construction phasing scenarios and make key decisions before construction to save time and money.

Business intelligence/data analytics. Transit agencies are increasingly relying on data analytics as they focus on equitable transportation solutions and sustainable civil infrastructure. For example, San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit used data analytics to create an equity and outreach dashboard that supports continuous strategy development for the Link21 capital program’s public and stakeholder outreach campaign. This digital platform and approach have been foundational to BART’s communication with the region’s underserved populations as the agency plans and defines more transit and rail connections in the Bay Area.

Artificial intelligence/predictive analytics. Data generated from machine learning can proactively identify patterns in asset operations and help agencies make more informed decisions. The Connecticut Department of Transportation has harnessed data science techniques like predictive analytics to integrate and monitor live sensor data on its complex Norwalk River Railroad Bridge project. If, during the construction of the new railroad bridge, any movement on the existing bridge should exceed the threshold values of baseline activity set during ground truthing, CTDOT will stop service immediately to ensure safety.

An empowered, proactive, productive future

Mature data management practices lay the groundwork for transit agencies to do more with less. Powerful decision-support systems, proactive knowledge management solutions and streamlined work practices can help owners deliver a backlog of transit projects and advance their missions of greater mobility.


Jeff Siegel, GISP
Director, Digital Solutions

Jeff is a digital innovator, senior technology program manager and certified GIS professional with more than 29 years of professional experience. He leads HNTB’s robust network of digital solution professionals who empower transportation agencies to successfully leverage digital platforms and data strategies to solve problems and advance the future of transportation.

Contact him at